Say No to Trade in Rhino Horn

The highly questionable motive to reinstate a legalised trade in rhino horn, as is currently being purported by numerous “conservationists” and businessmen in South Africa, is squaring the South African Government up for a nasty and unnecessary fight, especially in the run-up to the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), writes Jason Bell.

Click on the cover image to read the report
Click on the cover image to read the report

In a new report by Economists at Large called Horn of Contention, commissioned by IFAW to review the literature on the economics of trade in rhino horn, the message is clear – there is no way whatsoever to begin to suggest that a legalised trade in rhino horn would be beneficial to rhino populations in the wild.

In fact, the only guarantee is a huge amount of risk given the lack of data on how and to what extent demand is being driven in the East, notably in China and Vietnam. Without a handle on demand dynamics and firm action in addressing such, not to mention seriously dealing with the criminal syndicates involved in illicit trade, legalising trade could realistically push rhino populations closer to the brink of extinction.

Why is it, in this day and age, that we continue to cling to archaic traditions, beliefs and practices?

The answer is simple – economics.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of money to be made in trading rhino horn and, if we look at the trend in poaching levels over the past five years or so, illegal practices are clearly worth the risk for those involved.

There is money to be made all along the trade chain. Those wishing to sell horn on the supply side see conservation as an agricultural practice, i.e. farming. Those wishing to sell horn on the demand end also see rhinos in utilitarian terms, in the case of rhino horn use, superfluous at best. Clearly, something is seriously wrong with this picture.

It is time for the pro-traders to call it for what it is, i.e. it’s really only about the money, and to stop hiding behind ridiculous arguments that legalising trade would stop poaching and benefit wild rhino populations. Ignorance is bliss, but I doubt that there are many out there that would support legal trade if they spent a few minutes doing some basic math on the back of an envelope – it is not difficult to see that, even with our very limited understanding of demand variables, supply will never be able to keep up.

Pretoria, please take note.

About the author: In his dual role as Regional Director Southern Africa and of the Elephant Programme, Jason Bell is responsible for developing, monitoring and evaluating campaigns and programmes for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) within his region and providing leadership for IFAW’s global elephant conservation activities. For further information visit:

For more on this topic click onto the subject titles below:

Can we afford to experiment with rhinos? (August 2013)

Greed beats logic: why a legal rhino horn trade won’t work (July 2013)


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